The Road to Hana is high up on many peoples Must-Do Maui itineraries. It is not hard to see why either, this stunning highway runs through pristine rainforest, past numerous world-class waterfalls, and has more jaw-dropping vista’s per mile than any other piece of tarmac in the world. However, it also comes with a fearsome reputation, and strikes fear into the hearts of many. This fear means many skip the highway and spend their time enjoying more sedate activities, like sitting by the pool. This is terribly unfortunate, The highway is really a real jewel in the already stunning Crown of Maui’s natural beauty.
In this article, we take a look at what causes the Roads Fearsome reputation, and ask honestly “How Scary is the Road to Hana Really?”. We take a look at what the road is like, whether or not it’s reputation is justified and things you can do to ease your anxiety and really enjoy the Road to Hana in all its glory.
The Road To Hana
We have written extensively and lyrically about the road in our other articles and we imagine if you are seriously questioning the journey you are pretty aware of what the road is so we will not go in too deep here. (try our “Is the Road to Hana Worth it” or “Hana Highway Guide” for more detailed descriptions). In short the Road is is a narrow 1 lane road that carves its way around the backside of Haleakala into some of the most pristine and picturesque rainforests on the island.
Hana, the quaint little backwater town has just the one road leading in or our and this is the drive of a lifetime! Its 60ish miles of continuously bending tarmac slice right through some unbelievable scenery, with countless waterfalls, dense jungle foliage, and plunging seacliffs allowing sweeping vista’s down the coast. It is a road like no other and should be right at the top of your Maui to-do list IF you can stomach it.
What is the Highway like
The Majority of the road is one-lane each way, although the road regularly drops down to one way for BOTH directions. The road is endlessly winding and many corners are seriously blind. The Surface is pretty well maintained but is often wet, slippery, and covered in jungle debris.
While the road is coastal, large parts of the highway scarcely even offer a sea view and the perilous section that most people fear is only around 10 miles between Mile Marker 9 and Mile Marker 19.5. Here the road is exposed to some fairly large drops, however, these are all behind Armco rails and there are no large unprotected drops. Outside of this section, the road is more inland, wider, slightly less bendy, and on the whole pretty sedate.
The other feature of the highway is the endless bridges. Well over 50 in total and most of the single lane for both directions. These Rickety looking relics strike fear into many people’s hearts as they meet traffic head-on with no passing place and drops either side.
However, the bridges are regularly inspected and are perfectly safe for light traffic. The Single file traffic is easily regulated with simple give way systems and you just wait your turn at the give says one each side of the bridge until it is your turn to cross. other than a slight hindrance to your rate of progress there is nothing to worry about.
What makes the Highway Scary?
The main thing that makes people fear the road is reputation! The Road often apps up in “worlds most dangerous roads” lists, along with other such “shock “journalism”. To compare this road to other “highways of death” such as the North Yungas Road in Bolivia or the Brazils Road of death is ridiculous. Fatalities are rare and accidents often very minor. But still, people fear the road and take the “I survived the Road To Hana” T-Shirts Seriously.
However, many people who do not get caught up in the hype head to the road and come away scarred with tales of doom and dread of a hells highway that is near impossible to drive!
So How Scary is it?
The Signs of fear are an elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, increased alertness, and a sense of dread and fear. So looking out for these symptoms can show how scared you are by a certain situation. When driving the Highway, We tend to be calm as Hindu cows. There is almost nothing about the drive that causes anxiety in us. This is why we find it a little odd so many are utterly petrified of the road.
We know simply by writing this some people will be up in arms at us stating the road is just a road and is nothing to fear. We are aware for some the road is a terrifying prospect and we are not trying to diminish that. The problem is we all confront fears in a different way. What is scary to some is nothing to others.
The Scariest thing I have ever had to confront in my life…My wedding speech! Standing up and talking in front of others caused untold anxiety and could only be faced with a LARGE amount of dutch courage. Other people revel in that sort of environment. We all have different phobias and they can not be dismissed just because we do not suffer from them.
I think nearly all of us have some kind of phobia, some irrational, spiders, birds, outdoors, speeches, heights, flying. Some more reasoned, I imagine people living in the Serengeti are very justifiably fearful of lions, and Bull elephants, Soldiers have a real and healthy fear of the enemy! So is the road justifiably scary? Is it dangerous? And should you consider avoiding it for legitimate safety concerns?
Is the Road to Hana Dangerous
Yes. The Road to Hana is by its very nature one of the most dangerous things you will do on your Maui Vacation! What makes it so dangerous…It’s a road!
One of the leading causes of accidental deaths anywhere in the world is Road Traffic Accidents. Driving a car is dangerous. Period. But is the Road to Hana any more or less dangerous than other roads in Hawaii, the Mainland, or anywhere else in the world? We do not think so. Certainly not for tourists.
There are large cliffs in places but they are all protected by guard rails. in most places, the road is wide enough for two tour buses to pass. Any single track bridges or narrow one-car sections are marked with Give-way signs and road marking. And most of all, for the most part, speeds, are LOW! If you get above 30 mph you are doing well!
Accidents are common and you may be more likely to have a small bump, brush a wall/banking, or get stuck in a ditch than regular highways, but you are less likely to actually injure yourself than on most roads in Hawaii. Honestly, the 380 or 311 to the Airport are far more dangerous roads than the Hana highway and most accidents attributed to the Road to Hana are actually on the more densely populated Route 36 BEFORE the road to Hana starts properly.
The road is tricky to drive and requires care, but this is very obvious to anyone driving the road and as long as sensible precautions are taken, such as, you know, slowing down for corners, more so for blind narrow bends and giving way at the one-way sections, obeying the speed limits and generally just not being a braindead moron, there really is nothing about the road to make it unsafe.
Locals can be a problem as they are generally a lot more confident on the road and view the tourist as a major inconvenience. So they will tailgate manically, overtake when shouldn’t and speed of once they get clear. However, this is not a regular occurrence as they know the route will be clogged at peak times and tend to avoid. You can help by pulling over to let people faster than you by, there is nothing to be gained by holding someone up, they will get increasingly angry, more erratic, and make your trip far more uncomfortable. Just indicate into one of the MANY pull-outs and let them by.
So if the Road is not particularly dangerous, or even that scary why does it have such a fearsome reputation, and why are so many terrified of the road? It is a tough question to answer as if we accept this is an irrational fear it can be hard to put your finger on what exactly is the trigger!
Why different people find it Frightening?
Initially, we just thought it was just nervous drivers or drivers with little experience of this type of road. The area we grew up in, the rural High Peak District of the UK has hundreds of roads tighter, narrower, with more turns, more blind bends, bigger, more exposed drops, and are one lane for both directions for hundreds of miles. These single-track lanes Crisscross our road network and are often used as rat runs so you also have to contend with Businessmen in Audis hurtling along the lanes to get to a meeting! After growing up on these the road to Hana was no problem.
It is then easy to imagine that people from Urban Los Angeles, used to colossal Freeways (which put the fear of God into us!) would find such a tight narrow twisty track nightmarish. Or someone from the rural US where roads amble on for hundreds of miles with barely a bend would find the almost endless snaking of the road completely daunting. And finally, someone with little experience outside of their comfort zone, someone who driving is an anxious experience for in the best of times would just fond the road far too much.
These are the main reasons people find the road uncomfortable. It is just not inside their comfort zone. Even really confident drivers who have rarely experienced this type of road suddenly find their grip tightening and the beads of sweat forming.
But there is more to it than that the enduring reputation that this is a dangerous road manifests itself in your mind. The Jungle Canopy envelopes the road leading to mild claustrophobia and an uncomfortable sense of being consumed. The sheer remoteness of the area also plays on the mind. There is little cell reception, you driving around an active(ish) volcano into the wilds of an already pretty remote island chain. The steep valleys encrusted in the jungle start off the imagination and you half expect to bump into a Dinosaur. It’s a cumulative thing that adding in the fairly stressful driving conditions can tip people over the edge to the point the drive is just no longer fun.
I want to drive the Hana Highway but I am scared?
If you have serious doubts over whether or not the road is for you, or you are pretty convinced this type of driving is not your style then you have three options.
The first is one we don’t advise. Skip it. The road is such a stunning journey through the most amazing landscape we just want everyone to experience it. So if you REALLY know it’s just going to be too much and even the thought of it is keeping you up at night, It’s time to let the pros’ do the driving. By taking a Tour the pressure and risk are on someone else and you can take comfort in the fact this person does it daily and as they are still around, and not on the bottom of a sea cliff, they must be doing something right. Check out our favorite Tours here.
But really, we want people to experience the road for themselves. Exploring and discovering are all part of the journey and a van tour is often a long and pretty boring way to see the road, even if you get a great guide and they show you all the best locations. So the final option is mitigating the fear. The fear is in your head so some positivity might help get your head around it.
- It REALLY isn’t a bad road. The tarmac is smooth and well maintained. for the most part, it is wide enough for two small buses to pass each other with no issue.
- The drops are all protected and the chance of you ending up at the bottom of one is infinitely small.
- Yes, it is remote, but there are hundreds of people driving the road, day and night, you are not going to be alone and stranded, even if you have to stop in a cell black spot.
- Drive Defensively, there may be idiots on the road but pre-empting them and driving n a defensive manner ensures you are less likely to get into trouble. Pullover for quicker drivers, Take the widest line on blind corners, Give way on the single-lane sections if you are not sure others will. Take the moral high ground and just drive in a way that ensures YOUR safety!
- The Numbers really do not match the road’s reputation. Serious accidents involving tourists on the Highway are rare, compared to the rest of the islands where tourists accidental deaths are higher than average! You really should be more fearful driving to the airport or shipping in Walmart, are you going to buy an “I Survived Wallmart Kahului?”
Really just understanding that the Road is actually perfectly serviceable and 99% of the fear is in your mind can help overcome that fear. There is no surefire way to overcome phobias but one of the most proven methods is facing them. While to fully overcome the fear requires repeated exposure we find with the right attitude, a good amount of care and respect for the road, and a little can-do attitude many people find the Road FAR less intimidating than they originally feared.
Finally – Know your limits. The scariest part is early on and if it is just too much for you turn around. A very anxious and scared driver is a dangerous one. You have tried and that is all anyone can ask, but if it’s too much head back. Remember if you push on you have to come back this way (or the scarier, riskier back route!), this will be on your mind all day ruining the trip. There is no shame in knowing your limits and calling it quits. But having an accident and being stuck out in the jungle is a real Vacation Wrecker!
My Other Half is fine with the drive but their driving terrifies ME!
This is a tough and fairly common problem. If your other half wants to drive the road then a tour is not a good compromise. They will be miserable. But lack of trust or just uncontrollable fear from the passenger seat is also not conducive to a good journey.
We find the best solution (like most things in life) is good communication. Both before and during. Make sure your partner is aware of your fears and explain they may not be entirely rational but still real. Encourage them to take things easy and to explain themselves when driving. Hearing the driver explain they understand this bend is tight and blind so they are taking it slow and wide helps you understand they are not recklessly hooning around the blind bend!
Also through yourself into the Navigation. Distraction is a great way to keep the fear at bay. If you are in charge of the directions and finding the stops, that is one less thing to distract the driver and gives you something to do. Work as a team and play to your strengths.
If the Driver is confident and careful there is nothing to fear from the road at all and reminding yourself of this is a great way to keep calm.
We just can’t Visit Maui without taking a highway trip. Every time we come we think we will skip it this time, but instead find some reason to make the pilgrimage. It is such a unique and wonderful Road through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
Yes, it is long, hard work, challenging, and costs a full day of your vacation along with a precious lie-in, but there is so much beauty and wonder along this little highway it has to be right at the top of your bucket list.
Is the Road to Hana Worth it? We go into detail in the linked article, but, Spoiler alert! the answer is an unequivocal YES!
What about the Back Route?
Everything we have said above is solely aimed at the section between Paia and Kipahula, beyond that, the road changes immeasurably! If the Road the Hana is proving scary, that Back route will scare the Bejebous out of you!
It is still manageable, and 99.99% (warning Made up Stat!) have no issue at all, but it is narrower, more exposed, and in places has no asphalt topcoat (Dirt Track). Really the worst thing about it is the Hire Car prohibitions meaning you are uninsured and beyond the reach of the Hire Car Recovery truck (meaning you will have to pay for recovery yourself $$$).
It is not a place for nervous drivers, and if even attempting the Hana Highway is questionable for you, do not even consider the back route.
Read more about the backside of Hana Here!
Have Your Say
We know for most people the Hana Highway is fine. We personally have no issues at all but the fear is very real in many people and can’t be dismissed. So if you have no problem with the highway spouting off you “don’t see the big issue” isn’t particularly helpful to those that do fear it!
We would love to hear from those who braved the road though. Was it worse or better than your fears? What did you do to mitigate them? In the end, was it all worth it for YOU? Also, is anyone planning a drive but is fearful of the road? What are your fears and doubts? What is it about the road that strikes terror into your heart? Hopefully, we can help allay some of these fears?
Whatever you have to say just drop us a comment below.